Turkish court sentences five to life in prison over assassination of Russian ambassador Karlov

Five Turkish nationals were handed life sentences for their role in the assassination of Russia’s envoy to Turkey, Andrey Karlov, in Ankara in 2016. The man who pulled the trigger had been shot dead on site by security forces.

Karlov was murdered on December 19, 2016 as he was delivering a speech at an opening of a Russia-themed exhibition in the Turkish capital. A local off-duty police officer, Mevlut Mert Altintas, fired nine bullets at the diplomat, while also injuring several other visitors. The 22-year-old attacker was killed shortly afterwards in a standoff with other members of law enforcement.

A total of 28 people were suspected of being involved in the high-profile assassination, which both the Turkish and the Russian authorities labeled a terrorist act aimed at driving a wedge between the two countries.

On Tuesday, a court in Ankara handed out sentences to most of them, with five Turkish citizens getting life in prison. Two of the suspects, including the assassin’s “mentor,” received a double life term from the judge.

Nine defendants got sentences ranging from five to 15 years in prison, while five others were acquitted of any crime.

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Among those convicted were two former employees of the Office for Information Technology and Communications of Turkey; an ex-police officer who worked together with Altintas; and a high-ranking agent of the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MIТ).

The court said that they recruited the assassin, prepared him for the hit and gathered information on Karlov while working for the organization of exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen.

The opposition religious figure, who is currently in the US, was among the nine people tried in absentia. The proceedings against them will continue separately at the request of the prosecutors.

Gulen is a political opponent of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whom Ankara has also accused of masterminding the failed military coup in July 2016.

All of those convicted on Tuesday pleaded not guilty and said that they were going to appeal the ruling.

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Russia’s Foreign Ministry reacted to the verdict by expressing satisfaction “that the Turkish justice has strongly condemned this terrorist act against an outstanding Russian diplomat.”

Karlov’s assassination became an “unprecedented test” of relations between Moscow and Ankara, but the level of cooperation in recent years gives grounds to believe that this test had been passed, the ministry said in a statement.

Russia expects Turkey to keep providing timely updates on the results of the proceedings, especially regarding the organizers and masterminds of the attack on the ambassador, the ministry added.

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